New Yorkers may seek emotional damages even without physical injury

Much of New York personal injury law is rooted in common law, or judge-made law, which means that the law is explained and developed through court decisions rather than laid out in statutes written by the legislature. Fortunately, this enables the law to evolve and change over time in response to shifting cultural realities, scientific discoveries and other factors that may influence the outcome of a case. For example, a person could once only recover for emotional distress damages if he or she was physically injured due to the negligent act or omission of another party.

However, in a landmark case, Battalla v. New York, the New York Court of Appeals held that a victim can recover for emotional injuries caused by a car accident even if the person was not physically harmed. In its judgment, the court remarked that the victim must be able to establish "severe emotional and neurological disturbances with residual physical manifestations." Damages for emotional distress may include not only pain and suffering but also the cost of seeking treatment to alleviate mental anguish and any incidental expenses.

A near-miss can be scary, and the law recognizes that those who are near the point of impact of an accident but not physically injured can experience pain and suffering as someone who suffers physical injuries. In fact, according to Psychology Today, emotional trauma in and of itself has been scientifically linked to decreased immune response, increased blood sugar, hypertension, chronic pain and numerous other ill effects stemming from the constant release of cortisol, a hormone triggered by stress, in the body.

A noteworthy case

A recent incident illustrates an exemplary situation in which a person may suffer severe emotional injury from a near-miss even where there was not an actual impact. On March 30, a woman drove into a group of people waiting near a bus stop on Church Avenue near Utica Avenue in Brooklyn after allegedly swerving to avoid a vehicle that had braked abruptly. According to the Daily News, the car went through a group of pedestrians and stopped after hitting a scaffolding support column. Eleven people were injured in the car accident, including the driver and a passenger in her car along with a three-year-old boy. The woman was reported to be traveling at a high rate of speed when she lost control of her vehicle.

Not only may those who were physically injured in the accident have a claim against the driver on the basis of negligence, but any pedestrians standing at or next to the bust stop who were not physically impacted by the vehicle may have suffered severe emotional distress that manifested itself physically. These individuals may be plagued by severe anxiety, sleep disturbances or even post-traumatic stress disorder following the sudden and dramatic incident, and they may be able to obtain compensation for those injuries.

If you have been injured or traumatized during a serious accident or other incident for which another party may have been liable, a lawyer may be able to help you recover compensation for your injuries, physical or otherwise. Assembling a strong case for potentially securing compensation for medical expenses or mental health treatment may be the first step toward helping you live free of your pain and anxiety.